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E p i c e n t r e
Issue 3

Dancing with Ponies

Working with horses is a dance. We tend to forget that. Somehow we think that this is a dominance situation: the old, 'I'm the master' mentality.

However, consider seriously...the average horse weighs a thousand pounds. even a Shetland pony has three hundred pounds of bulk to oppose the will of a human being if the animal chooses. I am a small woman. I weigh a fraction of the animals I work and play with on my farm. I have never been much of an athlete. Still, I expect my horses and ponies to co-operate with me. We dance.

I was introduced to TTEAM work a number of years ago and I remember one of the participants came with sweatshirt with a logo 'Dancing with Horses'. The instructor immediately picked up on the message and told us all, "That is what TTEAM is all about."

The TTEAM TTouch has many different massage techniques. All of them work. As the human handler strokes and massages the equine the animal forms a bond that carries over into riding and driving work. Yet, for me more than the massage techniques, it is that sense of understanding the equine mind and becoming a partner with these marvellous prey animals, whom have accepted friendship with a predator they should fear.

About a month ago I was retraining Miniature Horse to pull a cart. It had been at least three years since I had asked him for any serious work. Shadow is splendid little fellow with spirited, willing attitude. He has his moments of exuberance and I have tried not to inhibit his natural zest even when it does mean an occasional unexpected dash down the road! I train most of my horses with their halter ( head collar in British use), then we progress to the bridle and bit. I remembered Shadow had not been very accepting of the bit, although as a youngster he had settled down. Now, he was having no part of that piece of metal in his mouth. I checked his teeth. I changed bridles. I tried a softer bit. Nothing worked. The little guy who I could call from the pasture with a shake of his halter was beginning to look at me as if I might be the enemy. And then it dawned on me! (we humans can be slow). Why am I doing this? why indeed? Here is a willing dance partner who objects to part of the costume. Who needs it? Not Shadow.

Buckley has a day when the town honours older horse people. Two people are picked each year and then everyone is invited to come to town to ride their horses around a four-mile loop. Most folks ride. Some drive. Yup, I drove little Shadow. He pranced along with his usual every, not the least intimidated by all those big saddle horses. He was my willing, completely happy partner. I don't think there was a horseperson in that crowd of about fifty to a hundred who guessed that I was driving a pony with no bit! Let's move on to TTEAM and the Exmoor Pony. I have never found a more honest, intelligent horse that the Exmoor. However, they expect the dance to follow their rules, and their rules are set in a language of ancient equine. When I first got my three Exmoors they had been well handled, yet they were not bonding the way my domestic horses and ponies did so readily.

I phone my local TTEAM practioner, Debora Potts. She went through all the massage techniques, then she told me to stop acting like a predator. I needed to stop making eye contact with the ponies. I had to approach them with horse manners. I had to understand their natural fears and I had do respect them!

One of the mares, Cactus, had developed a habit of pulling away from anyone who tried to lead her. It had become difficult to move her from point A to point B. Debra's advice was simple, "Dance with her". Usually if a horse pulls away from us we hold on tighter and pull back: however anyone who has tried to hold an Exmoor Pony who doesn't want to held, knows that that is impossible. Debra's directions seemed contrary to everything I had ever been taught as 'the master'. So, I tried. I would invite Cactus to follow me making sure that I was using my peripheral vision to watch her. She would hesitate. I would invite agin. Another hesitation, then she would move away from me. I would then move BACK WITH HER. rather than yanking the rope from my hands, she would stop Again I would invite her to move forward. She might back again always taking me with her, but Cactus never backed anymore than twice. She would come forward with me. I had invited her to join the dance, told her I respected her fear, then invited her agin. It took a couple of weeks before Cactus stopped hesitation, but she now is will to follow any competent handler as long as they respect her. She has become a willing dance partner because she is a partner.

It has been a couple of years since I learned what Cactus needed to follow willingly. That particular dance move has helped me with many, many horses.

The Exmoors have helped me to use my TTEAM skill as I have trained them under saddle. They tend to distrust anything new that is put in the arena. If something like a series of poles on the ground is overwhelming, I will do what Debra called, "Chunking it down". If five pose are scary maybe one with two off to the side forming funnel will manageable. Okay, that worked. Get rid of the funnel and set out two poles. Five minutes later a row of poles is no problem. The new dance pattern has been accepted. It sure beats thumping the pony and getting into an exhausting fight that can break the bond of trust that we are so carefully trying to form.

When I was in my twenties, I was a professional dancer. I rarely found a partner I enjoyed for any length of time. For the last few years I have been learning to dance with horses. I have never met a horse or pony who hasn't added to my joy of the dance

Laverne Harris, Buckley. Washington USA.

NB. TTEAM stands for Tellington Touch Awareness Method and the founder is Canadian Linda Tellington Jones . The technique of body massage, is used to advantage by German Canadian and American show jumpers and dressage rider to keep their horses relaxed, pain free and in peak mental and physical condition. Now it has developed into a comprehensive system adaptable to the needs of any horse or pony.

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